The Tragically Hip Massey Hall, Toronto ON May 11

The Tragically Hip Massey Hall, Toronto ON May 11
Though he proved to be ever the showman, Gordon Downie promised nothing extraordinary as he proudly led the Tragically Hip onstage for the first (time ever) of six nights between the hallowed walls of Massey Hall. "We're gonna play some old songs, some new songs, and some songs that we know," he exclaimed to an adoring audience, mapping out the night ahead.

The Hip are paradoxically one of the most popular and underrated live bands in Canada and they fight with the relaxed calm of resigned underdogs, letting their heavyweight Downie take some of the blows and garner most of the glory. With truly nothing left to prove, however, the band did their best to entertain the assembled "music lovers," as Downie repeatedly called us by the end of he night, like an ordained high chief bestowing an honour we might otherwise take for granted. The trick here though is that, aside from being unfamiliar, the Hip's latest album We Are the Same stews with the intensity of a pressure cooker; or more bluntly, it takes a while to get going. The sag of the record lifted slightly live but it's no surprise that the boisterous crowd rose for every old favourite and hit some ancient upholstery during fresher fare.

Opening with "The Depression Suite," the Hip set the tone; this was going to be something of a CD release show. The room's first burst of recognition came with one of the band's best singles, "In View," auxiliary guest Jim Bryson pumping out the keyboard riff with reserved cool. "Poets" fit well with "Morning Moon" but "Now the Struggle Has a Name" burst the taut bubble Downie's odd bungling of "Cinnamon Girl" into a raucous "Fully Completely" had recklessly created.

A powerful "Love is a First" preceded an intermission (they're theatre shows after all), which in turn brought on a memorable acoustic set ("Toronto #4," "Fiddler's Green," and a mesmerizing "Greasy Jungle") dedicated to mothers. In between lagging shots at "The Last Recluse" and the questionable "Coffee Girl," fans were treated to dynamic versions of "Twist My Arm," "Bobcaygeon" (featuring a lovely organ solo by Bryson), and the Guelph, ON-dedicated "Speed River."

Throughout the evening, Downie made great use of small, white towels, as sweat-soppers and primitive yet effective stage props; he feigned surrender, conjured ghosts, and played Pelé with himself. As grown men and women hollered and squealed at his theatrics, Gordon Downie carried another night, becoming that much stronger, sensitive, agile, and brutish. "Good night music lovers," he intoned, "See you tomorrow night." And at this point, with great songs or even merely average ones, he likely always will.

Set list:

Set #1:
"The Depression Suite"
"In View"
"Courage"
"Pigeon Camera"
"Poets"
"Morning Moon"
"It Can't Be Nashville Every Night"
"Cinnamon Girl Intro/Fully Completely"
"Now the Struggle Has a Name"
"Yer Not the Ocean"
"Love is a First"

(Intermission)

Set #2:
"Toronto #4" (acoustic)
"Fiddler's Green" (acoustic)
"Greasy Jungle" (acoustic)
"The Last Recluse"
"Twist My Arm"
"At the Hundredth Meridian"
"Coffee Girl"
"Ahead by a Century"
"Speed River"
"Bobcaygeon"
"Tiger the Lion"
"Blow at High Dough"

Encore:
"Frozen in my Tracks"
"Locked in the Trunk of a Car"